Roku 4K TVs and streaming players will soon become more useful to people who own Apple devices. Before the end of the year, thousands of media players and smart TVs powered by Roku will receive a free software upgrade that adds support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. The catch? Only 4K-compatible Roku devices will work with AirPlay, which leaves out the cheapest players.
The upgrade marks the first time that any standalone streamer — aside from Apple’s own Apple TV box — will work with AirPlay. It instantly makes Apple’s popular wireless casting system available on TV screens at a more accessible price. The Apple TV starts at $150 (£150, AU$249) while the least expensive current Roku Player to receive the upgrade will be the Roku Premiere, which costs $40.
Products that it won’t be available on include the $30 Roku Express and smaller TVs such as the 32-inch, $130 TCL 32S325.
The addition of AirPlay support also brings Roku smart TVs from TCL, Hisense and others in line with those from Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio, which began adding AirPlay support last year.
Apple’s AirPlay system allows people with an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Mac computer to cast and mirror content — including photos, streaming video, music apps and games — from their Apple devices onto their TV screens over a home Wi-Fi network. HomeKit, meanwhile, allows for control of the TV or player with the Home app or Siri on a mobile device or Apple’s HomePod speaker. Note that Roku already supports voice control through Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant devices.
Read more: Apple AirPlay 2: Everything you need to know
In addition to a recent deal with Peacock, AirPlay gives Roku another advantage over its chief rival among inexpensive streaming devices, Amazon Fire TV. Amazon held a press event on Sept. 24 where it announced new Fire TV devices, but it still doesn’t support AirPlay or have a Peacock app. Both platforms offer Apple’s TV app, which includes the Apple TV Plus streaming service as well as TV and movie purchases, and both continue to lack support for HBO Max.
Roku said nearly all of its 4K TVs and streaming players (aside from its oldest models) will get the AirPlay and HomeKit upgrades. The only player that won’t is the Roku 4 (player model 4400X) from 2015.
Any Roku TV from the last three years likely qualifies for the upgrade. The exceptions have model numbers that begin with a “6” (so 6XXXX), which typically date from 2016 and earlier. If you have an older 4K Roku TV, you can check the model number by going to Settings, System and then About. The version you have will be listed by “Roku TV.”
Compared to other TV makers with AirPlay, Roku’s support for older models is impressive and on par with Vizio, which has added AirPlay to some of its TVs dating back to 2016. Meanwhile the oldest Samsung and Sony TVs with AirPlay date from 2018 and LG has limited AirPlay support only to some of its 2019 and 2020 TVs.
The software update, known as Roku OS 9.4, will also add new themes that now include sound effects, including nautical noises to go with a fish-centric theme. There’s also a new “Live TV” input tile on Roku TV home screens that leads to 115 live channels from The Roku Channel in a grid guide form. If you connect an antenna, you’ll see a guide that combines those streaming channels with over-the-air channels. Other tweaks include voice hints and the ability to control surround sound levels with connected speakers.
OS 9.4 will begin “rolling out to select Roku players this month” and be fully available to its streaming players in “the coming weeks,” Roku said. Roku TV models can expect to see the update in “phases over the coming months,” the company added.